We recently attended Event Sustainability Live (ESL) in Las Vegas earlier this month. This event, which started in London in 2023, brought sustainability discussions to the forefront of event planning in North America. The conference offered innovative strategies and practical insights for integrating sustainable practices into the event industry.

Some key takeaways included the importance of focusing on achievable and authentic practices, the crucial role of metrics and guidelines, leveraging industry connections, and the power of storytelling and transparency in sustainability efforts.

Focus on Achievable and Authentic Practices

A key takeaway from ESL was the importance of focusing on achievable and authentic sustainable practices. As businesses incorporate sustainability into their operations, starting with realistic, manageable goals is essential. This approach ensures genuine progress without falling into the greenwashing trap—making false or exaggerated claims about sustainability efforts.

Authenticity is equally important. Businesses should be transparent about where they currently stand, where they are heading, and what they are asking from their partners. This transparency builds trust and credibility with clients and stakeholders, making sustainability efforts genuine and verifiable. Authenticity in these efforts is crucial for long-term success.  

Importance of Metrics and Guidelines

An important observation was the role of metrics in measuring sustainability efforts. The Event Services Contractors Association (ESCA) and the Experiential Designers and Producers Association (EDPA) have partnered to create a comprehensive sustainability guideline for the event industry. A resource like this is invaluable for exhibit companies and the industry at large, as it clearly outlines various ways to set and achieve sustainability-related goals.

These guidelines offer clear metrics to help companies track their sustainability initiatives effectively. They allow companies to benchmark their progress and identify improvement areas. Utilizing these guidelines means setting measurable, impactful goals that drive continuous improvement across operations.  

Leveraging Industry Connections

The event also highlighted the power of leveraging industry connections to promote sustainability. Companies can amplify their sustainability efforts by collaborating with their networks of vendors and suppliers and having honest conversations with them about meeting sustainability goals.  

Exhibit houses, which interact with various sectors within the event space—such as flooring, furniture, labor, and logistics—can make a significant impact by encouraging vendors to adopt more sustainable practices or by utilizing more sustainable suppliers themselves. This collaborative approach ensures that sustainability goals are met more effectively and comprehensively.  

Storytelling about Sustainability

One of the speakers at ESL emphasized the importance of storytelling in sustainability efforts. Talking about what you're doing early and often, with authenticity, helps build a compelling narrative that resonates with clients and stakeholders. Being clear, concise, and vocal about sustainability initiatives fosters trust and showcases a company's commitment to continuous improvement. Sustainability is a journey, and a narrative supporting this journey is crucial.

Embracing Sustainability: A Call to Action  

According to an IBM Institute for Business Value study, 51% of global consumers say environmental sustainability is more important today than it was a year ago. They are making sustainable choices in purchases, investments, and travel but need support from companies to maximize these efforts.  

How We Can Help

Steelhead believes in sharing its sustainability journey openly, inspiring others through transparent communication of progress and challenges. By focusing on achievable goals and standardized metrics and leveraging industry connections, the event industry can drive significant environmental impact and ensure memorable and responsible future events.

Want to learn more about incorporating sustainable practices into your trade show program? Contact us today to start the conversation.  


Kari Mills

Account Manager and Member of Steelhead’s Sustainability Committee

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